Tamir Rice, 12, was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer outside a city recreation center Saturday evening, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Officers went to the center after a report of a "male threatening people with a gun," police said. The officers were not told the caller said the gun might be fake and the person pointing it at people may have been a juvenile. The officers saw the boy put the gun in his waistband, according to police. When the officers told him to put his hands in the air, he reached into his waistband and pulled it out, police said. Officers fired two shots, at least one of which hit him in the stomach.
Police later determined the gun was a BB gun with the safety cap removed. A Rice family attorney, Timothy Kucharski, said the boy never pointed the gun at the officer, but said he could not give an alternate account of events. Both officers who responded, a first-year rookie and a 10-year department veteran, have been placed on administrative leave pending the results of the department's investigation.
The St. Louis County, Mo., grand jury hearing the Michael Brown will reconvene Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Barricades were erected outside the county Justice Center in Clayton on Saturday in preparation for an announcement of the grand jury's decision. Protesters have been preparing to take to the streets if Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson is not charged in the killing Aug. 9 of Brown, 18, during a confrontation in a street beside an apartment complex. Police have been readying a response, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has called in the National Guard for extra protection of some locations.
Officials have said that Wilson ordered Brown and another man to stop walking in the street that day and then realized they fit the description of two men suspected in a theft of cigarillos from a nearby store. They said Wilson, 28, still in a police SUV, struggled with Brown through the open window and that at least one shot was fired from the officer's pistol, striking Brown in the thumb. Brown then ran and Wilson shot him, although witness accounts to reporters varied about whether Brown was surrendering and whether he was moving back toward the officer when he was hit with six or seven shots. The killing triggered weeks of protests that drew international attention.
Police discipline is being scrutinized in cities around the U.S. as oversight officials question the rate at which officers fired for misconduct are returned to the force, the Wall Street Journal reports. Last week, an oversight panel in Philadelphia called for a review of the police disciplinary process after finding that 19 of 26 officers fired over a five-year period had their discharges overturned in arbitration. The week before, the mayor of Seattle made changes after a string of police-misconduct findings were overturned. A federal judge overseeing mandated police reforms in Oakland, Ca., ordered a probe into the same issue. The scrutiny comes as a grand jury is set to decide whether to file criminal charges against a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown.
Officers are rarely charged criminally for using excessive force or other on-duty misconduct. More frequently, they are punished by their employers for such offenses. A high rate of reversals of disciplinary actions can undermine efforts at accountability, say police-oversight officials. “If cases are overturned and they’re taking back officers who committed sometimes egregious misconduct, the community rightfully has questions about what those officers are going to be doing in that agency,” said Brian Buchner, president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. Police unions win reversals or modifications in more than 60 percent of disciplinary cases that go to arbitration, says Will Aitchison, a lawyer who represents police unions and the director of Labor Relations Information System.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press appealed the Washington, D.C., police department's refusal to release video footage from the first two days its officers began wearing “body cams” as part of a six-month pilot program, which had been touted as a means to greater transparency. The police department denied access to all 128 body-worn camera videos from Oct. 1-2 in their entirety, claiming that it is unable to redact “the faces, names, and other identifying information regarding arrestees, suspects, victims, and witnesses are exempt from disclosure as unwarranted invasions of personal privacy” under D.C. law.
The “claimed inability to redact ...footage is both implausible and legally unacceptable,” the Reporters Committee argued. “Not only does this run contrary to the stated objectives of the ... program — to increase transparency and accountability — it also undermines the purpose of the D.C. FOIA to ensure that ‘all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees,’” the appeal argued. Noting that there is “no question that the requested videos are public records,” the committee argued that at the very least, audio and images not exempt from disclosure should have been released.
President Obama is ending the controversial Secure Communities program as part of his immigration plan, reports the Los Angeles Times. Saying federal agents should focus on deporting "felons, not families," Obama announced a new initiative, the Priority Enforcement Program, which officials say will target only those who have been convicted of certain serious crimes or who pose a danger to national security. Federal agents will continue to examine local fingerprint records and, in some cases, ask jail officials to hold certain inmates. But the feds will now have to specify that the inmate is the subject of a removal order or is likely deportable.
To many advocates, Secure Communities symbolized what was wrong with the nation's immigration enforcement strategy. Designed to identify potentially deportable immigrants who had committed crimes, the program provided immigration agents with fingerprint records collected at local jails. Activists complained that the program eroded immigrants' trust in police and resulted in flawed deportations. Hundreds of local and state governments enacted policies to limit local law enforcement from cooperating with the program.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that federal officials will provide law enforcement officers with a new guide that will compile “information, tools, and best practices to maintain public safety while safeguarding constitutional rights during First Amendment-protected events.” Speaking in a recorded video, he said the intent is to "minimize needless confrontation” between police and citizens.
He didn’t mention Ferguson, Mo., by name in the video, but a grand jury decision is expected soon on whether to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 9 fatal shooting there of Michael Brown, 18. The shooting touched off weeks of protests, some violent. Holder said the protests “have the potential to spark a sustained and positive national dialogue,” but cautioned that “as we’ve seen, durable relationships between the police and their communities do not develop overnight.”
After 40-plus years in solitary confinement, the third and final imprisoned member of Louisiana's Angola 3, Albert Woodfox, might be headed home, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a decision to a overturn Woodfox's conviction related to the 1972 stabbing of a Louisiana State Penitentiary prison guard, Brent Miller, according to federal court documents.
The decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was unanimous, but the state could still appeal it. The decision upheld part of District Court Judge James J. Brady's ruling that found racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson in a 1998 retrial of Woodfox's original conviction. Woodfox, 67, and two others were implicated in prison murders, including the killing of Miller, but advocates maintain they were singled out for organizing a Black Panther Party chapter at the prison.
The American Society of Criminology, the premier U.S. organization promoting the study of crime and justice, is dominated by academics, so it may seem odd that its first president back in 1941 was the police chief of Berkeley, Ca., August Vollmer. It seemed to some members that the study of policing had been marginalized among criminologists lately, so the society moved Thursday to reverse that trend by establishing its first Division of Policing to join other units on topics like victimology, corrections and sentencing, and race and crime. Leading the new group is criminologist Dennis Rosenbaum of the University of Illinois at Chicago, who called the division "long overdue." The vice-chair is Anthony Braga of Rutgers and Harvard universities.
The Policing Division's kickoff event yesterday was led by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, a former police chief, who urged criminologists to help establish the "next generation of policing" by producing research, for example, that produces a better understanding of how aspects of "social evolution" like the school dropout rate affect future criminality. Other criminologists cheered the new division. Lorie Fridell of the University of South Florida said one police chief welcomed more research on crime and policing, telling her, "I can't manage what I can't measure."
Five former inmates at Lanesboro Correctional Institution have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that officers at the North Carolina prison repeatedly helped gang-affiliated inmates get weapons and wage attacks, reports the Charlotte Observer. Some officers went so far as to open locked doors to allow attacks on inmates, the lawsuit contends.
It’s the latest in a string of troubling allegations about Lanesboro. The high-security prison has repeatedly drawn scrutiny after violence, inmate deaths and claims of improper conduct by officers. Earlier this year, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety asked the FBI to assist in a wide-ranging investigation into gang activity and other problems at the prison. The plaintiffs in the latest complaint say they were assaulted by fellow prisoners wielding contraband weapons. They’re seeking monetary damages, along with changes to ensure the safety of current inmates at Lanesboro.
An increasing number of judges are questioning the use of fake drugs in “stash-house stings” by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, reports the New York Times. Suspects are lured to the houses, expecting to rip off drug dealers. Instead, they are arrested. The ATF has made a specialty of the ruses, conducting 365 such stings over the past decade. The bureau says it has sent to prison more than 1,000 of the country’s most “violent, hardened criminals” as a result.
But this year, the judge in a Los Angeles sting case dismissed the charges against two of the defendants on the rarely invoked grounds of “outrageous government conduct.” Judge Otis D. Wright II described the bureau in his March decision as “trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas — all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past.” Other judges in California and Illinois have also questioned the tactics.